You’ve got the picture in your head … but does your audience have the same picture?

If your audience don’t look as excited as you do … perhaps they haven’t got the right picture in their heads. 

Often you’ve got their attention … but they just don’t understand the dimension of what you are saying.

Picture this situation … a colleague of mine in the steel business tried to describe his recent tour of a steel mill in the USA.

“You should have seen this place … six hundred thousand square yards of production area … unbelievable! Paul … you don’t look impressed?”

“Should I be?” I said.

“This is the biggest facility of it’s kind, I’ve ever seen!”

“I see.” I replied, still none the wiser as to why I should be getting excited about a steel mill.

“But Paul, you don’t understand … this place was enormous!” …

By now the energised expression on his face, was changing to one of frustration, as he realised he just wasn’t able to impress me with the dimension of what he was saying.

“Well just how big was it?” I asked.

“Ok … let me put it this way, You fly a lot, don’t you? If you took the roof off the mill, you could land a Boeing 747 inside it!”

“Wow … that’s huge!” I replied.

I now had a vivid picture in my mind … and I understood the dimension of what he was saying, through his use of a clever analogy … something that fitted with my frame of reference. My colleague finally managed to get his point across, but only on the third attempt.

invariably we only get one shot at it …

In business presentations, invariably we only have one shot at getting our point across. How often have you suspected that your message has missed it’s mark? When the audience don’t totally grasp what we are saying, they are often not in a position to tell us. They sit there with a glazed look on their faces, smile in all the right places, clap at the end and then go back to their desks, with perhaps only a limited understanding of parts of our presentation. Every presentation skills book talks about understanding your audience and talking their ‘language’, but often we have complex points to put across that may require a fair degree of technical speak.

use a cognitive device, an analogy or metaphor …  to get your point across.
In 2003, whilst working with a client in Manchester , I was invited to a rugby sevens match at the  Commonwealth Games. It was here that I witnessed a great example of using a cognitive device. The commentator asked all the spectators in the north west corner of the stadium to stand up.

“Ladies and Gentlemen.” He announced, “You are looking at just over 2 500 people, which just happens to represent the entire population of Nui Island in the South Pacific. Please welcome the Nui Island rugby team on to the field” (don’t quote me on the exact population figure, but the point is still valid).

You can imagine how the spectators reacted, looking at the group of people now standing up, and imagining how this tiny population could produce a team of world-class rugby players. This was all that was needed for the spectators to buy-in to the tenacity of this team. A massive cheer went up and with the crowd now totally behind them … Nui Island won the match! This was a clever commentator.  Using part of the crowd, he painted a picture for everyone to really understand the dimension of what was being said.

add clarity, build retention and express dimension …
Over the years I have come across numerous examples of presentations with ingenious devices to add clarity, build retention and express dimension. DHL used to describe their courier operations as being in more countries than Coca Cola is sold. Picture that in your mind! A few years back, PG Windscreens had billboards around South Africa with a graphic of a hand being slid into a glove … the simple headline read “fits like a PG Windscreen”. The Advertising industry understand how to use devices to get their message across in just a few seconds.

For presentations, this style of creativity works equally well. So next time you find yourself simply delivering information, try using a cognitive device, an analogy or a metaphor, to bring your point to life and to make sure your audience are seeing the same picture.

© Paul Tomes 2011

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